optional hyphensMark a hyphenation location

The op­tional hy­phen, also known as the soft hy­phen, is usu­ally in­vis­i­ble. The op­tional hy­phen marks where a word should be hy­phen­ated if the word lands at the end of a line. You can put mul­ti­ple op­tional hy­phens in a word.

Why would you want to do this? Some words be­devil hy­phen­ation en­gines. For in­stance, True­Type will of­ten get hy­phen­ated as Tru-
. To pre­vent this, I put an op­tional hy­phen in the mid­dle (True~Type) so it will be hy­phen­ated correctly.

How do you know whether a word won’t be hy­phen­ated cor­rectly? The prob­lem usu­ally af­flicts words that aren’t in a stan­dard hy­phen­ation dic­tio­nary, like jar­gon words, un­usual proper names, and other words with non­stan­dard spellings, like trade names. As for­mer Supreme Court Jus­tice Pot­ter Stew­art might have said, you’ll know it when you see it.

How to insert an optional hyphen

Word InsertSymbols panel → SymbolMore SymbolsSpecial CharactersOptional Hyphen

OS X Word 2011 InsertSymbolAdvanced SymbolSpecial CharactersOptional Hyphen

OS X Word 2016 InsertAdvanced SymbolSpecial CharactersOptional Hyphen

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HTML ­ (that’s s for soft, hy for hyphen)

by the way
  • Even though you type a key to in­sert an op­tional hy­phen, you won’t see it un­til it’s needed. And ob­vi­ously, if your au­to­matic hy­phen­ation is turned off, you’ll never see it.

  • For the hy­phen­ation in this book, I used Frank Liang’s hy­phen­ation al­go­rithm to in­sert op­tional hy­phens when each page is gen­er­ated. (I’ve re­leased this code as an open-source hy­phen­ation mod­ule for Racket.) Though CSS no­tion­ally sup­ports hy­phen­ation, it’s not im­ple­mented as widely as the op­tional hyphen.